Did Dua Lipa actually copy “Levitating”?

Stars have been accused of plagiarizing from smaller artists, but music theory demonstrates this is more unlikely that it would appear.

Dua Lipas biggest hit yet, Levitating made waves in the music world but is now mired in controversy.

"Dua Lipa 02/08/2018 #2" by jus10h is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Dua Lipa’s biggest hit yet, “Levitating” made waves in the music world but is now mired in controversy.

Sophie Lu, Staff Writer

Glitter, moonlight, the Milky Way, renegading… in the midst of the pandemic two years ago, Dua Lipa took listeners for a ride to a galaxy “where the music don’t stop for life” in her smash hit disco track “Levitating.” 

Released on October 1st, 2020, “Levitating” quickly proved to be appropriately titled, soaring to the top of the charts as it debuted at number 73 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at number 2 on the chart. The song was also named Billboard’s top song of 2021.

But a recent development has the potential to stain the hit song’s legacy permanently. On March 1st, 2022, a relatively unknown reggae band called Artikal Sound System filed a lawsuit against Dua Lipa alleging that the pop star had plagiarized “Levitating” from their song “Live Your Life.”

While the case has not been argued yet, in the court of public opinion there seems to be a consensus that Dua Lipa had to have taken inspiration from the band because the songs sounded nearly identical, with comments popping up on social media like “She better get her wallet out” and “Dua I love you but what is this.”

For most people, even without a robust knowledge of music, a preliminary listen of the two songs side by side demonstrates several obvious similarities between both songs. “Levitating” and “Live Your Life” share a very similar chord progression (Bm7/F#m7/Em7/Bm7 and Bm7/F#m7/Em7/Em7 respectively). This independently is not very notable, considering there are a very limited number of 4-chord progression combinations that can exist, as evidenced by the fact that many pop songs use the same one.

But the two songs also share a nearly identical rhythm structure, both employing a rhythm called “the Charleston” (dotted eighth note, sixteenth note, and a rest).

Adam Neely

Even the lyrics seem to be derived, as “Levitating” uses the same rhyme scheme and even occasionally the same words.

Adam Neely

All of these aspects combined seem to be damning evidence that Dua Lipa did indeed rip off “Live Your Life,” but knowledge of musical history shows that this may not be the case. Musician, composer, and music theorist Adam Neely explains in a YouTube video why, despite the abundance of similarities, it is highly unlikely that the lawsuit has merit.

First, the chord progressions and rhythm used are not unique to Artikal Sound System, but rather standard choices for the genre of dance music. 

In the video, Nealy explains, “A mostly white reggae band from South Florida did not invent the Charleston rhythm four years ago. It’s been a common trope in 70s style dance melodies like the Jackson’s “Blame it on the Boogie.”

He goes on the compare “Levitating” and “Live Your Life” to a different song, Outkast’s “Rosa Parks,” which also sounds extremely similar and predates both songs. In fact, Dua Lipa cites Outkast as one of the sources of inspiration for Future Nostalgia, which makes it the more probable influence.

Add the fact that “Live Your Life” was only available on Soundcloud, a platform that allows users to edit the audio content without changing the timestamp of release, as well as videos documenting the actual creation of “Levitating”, and the case for Dua Lipa copying Artikal Sound System is rather weak.

This lawsuit has become the latest in a series of seemingly endless music copyright infringement lawsuits filed against popular artists by smaller ones. Earlier this year, singer Oliva Rodrigo gave the band Paramore an interpolation credit on her hit song “good 4 u” after coming under fire with listeners due to what some perceived as copying.

And just this month, Katy Perry won an appeal turning over the initial ruling against her, ordering her to pay $2.8 million dollars to the Christian hip hop artist Flame for her song “Dark Horse”.

The rise in mostly frivolous music lawsuits could partially be attributed to Flame’s initial success in his, possibly incentivizing other smaller artists to extort an opportunity to get money and recognition.

In most of these lawsuits, the similarities between the songs can be attributed to conventions for the musical genre and a finite amount of chord progressions and musical notes. Artists are influenced by other artists all the time, but there are specific criteria that distinguish influence from interpolation or something that would require songwriting credit.

Imagine if character tropes and basic storylines could be copyrighted in literature — nearly all novels would then be considered copied in some regard. What makes literature, music, and every form of art excellent is not its use of completely “original” concepts (a task that is basically impossible), but how artists interpret and execute classic fundamentals that make hordes of audiences connect with the art.